A Monthly Column on Historic Structures of New York's Southern Tier
Mercury Rising...
Renovation of Binghamton's Other Kilmer Building

"There were so many layers of paint you couldn't see any detail", said Zig Schafer. "I never knew there were scales on the snakes until now". Schafer was referring to the cast-iron bust of Mercury, the Winged Messenger, on the front of the Press Building on Chenango Street. A restoration expert, Schafer spent a couple weeks carefully removing nine layers of paint. "Over the years it has been three different colors" explained Schafer, "Originally it was painted with red primer and covered with gold leaf. At some point it was repainted white, then eventually, dark brown". Broome County Historian Gerald Smith remembers it being "that ugly dark brown" since the 1980's. Last week Schafer sprayed on a new coat of gold paint restoring the artwork to its original grandeur.

Originally known as the "Kilmer Building", (not to be confused with the Kilmer Building next door, or THE Kilmer Building currently being renovated just up the street), it was built in 1904 to be the home of Willis Sharp Kilmer's newspaper, the Binghamton Press. Designed by T.I. Lacy and Sons, Kilmer insisted that his building be Binghamton's tallest structure, a distinction it held for nearly seventy years until the seventeen-story State Building was constructed in 1972.

Entering the lobby of Kilmer's Press Building was always an unforgettable experience. The lobby, covered with magnificent marble tiles, leads to an exquisite grand staircase. Magnificent ornamental plaster artwork adorns the ceiling. The marble floor is highlighted with an inlaid brass design and "Kilmer Building" logo.

Today the marble tile floor is gone! In its place are sheets of plywood forming a temporary path to the elevator. The inlaid brass design and Kilmer logo? Nowhere to be seen! There are major changes happening… the Press Building has now become the "GBDC Professional Tower".

Last January it was announced that the law firm Coughlin & Gerhart LLP would move from its location at 20 Hawley Street, to the Press Building, occupying floors 8, 10, 11 and 12. The building's new owner, Greater Binghamton Development Corporation LLC (GBDC), contracted the local firm Chianis + Anderson Architects to develop plans for renovating the four floors as well as the first floor lobby and exterior of the building. The plan also calls for a pedestrian bridge connecting the building to an adjacent parking ramp. Architect Greg Chianis commented, "they (GBDC) wanted to do this right", adding that the owner and the new tenant consider the appearance of the lobby to be a very important element. "We felt it should serve as a gateway into a nicely developed, professional building," he said.

Originally, Kilmer's printing press filled two thirds of the first floor and basement. The main entrance and lobby were offset to one side and large windows lined the remainder of the first floor to showcase his printing press. Prior to relocation of the Binghamton Press in 1964, Gerald Smith recalls watching the printing process from the sidewalk in front of the building. "The stores downtown used to be open until 9:00 on Mondays and Thursdays" he said, "and there was always a crowd in front of the Press Building on those nights watching the presses run." That scene would later be depicted on a mural in the lobby of the building.

The area of the building originally occupied by the printing press has since served as a music store and later, two night clubs. For the last several years it has been vacant, showing signs of past abuse and neglect. With black walls, slate floors and layers of thick brightly colored textured paint covering the ceiling and columns, the cleanup would not be easy. Chianis said, "It was a mess. They hauled tons of debris from that area before reconstruction could begin."

No longer necessary to have the main entrance off center, a new grand entrance and lobby is being located at the center of the building. Plans show an energy efficient revolving door just beneath the Winged Messenger, with standard doors on either side.

Owner Mark Yonaty of GDBC commented that the marble floor tiles in the original lobby were badly cracked and could not be salvaged. Chianis agreed, saying that new granite tiles, similar in appearance to the original tiles but more durable, will be used throughout the new lobby. What about the inlaid brass "Kilmer Building" tile? "The KB tile was carefully removed and saved", Yonaty said, adding, "We are considering donating the tile to a local museum."

The walls of the new lobby will include large cherry wood pilasters and a matching clock tower/directory will be in the center of the room. "The ornamental plaster ceiling and the staircase railing will be carefully cleaned and restored", said Chianis, adding that the wooden handrail of the staircase will be refinished. Tenant space will now be located on each side of the new lobby.

New offices and conference rooms are taking shape on the upper floors, each comes with a spectacular view of the city and surrounding landscape. Yonaty hopes to have the renovation done and the upper floors ready for occupancy in January. After the new tenants move in, "the building will be 70 to 75% occupied", he said. Chianis commented that Coughlin & Gerhart considered several possible locations for their firm. "They considered moving out of downtown Binghamton", he said, adding "but they wanted to stay in the area, to keep people downtown."

A lifelong Binghamton resident, Yonaty is well aware of the historic significance of his building. Through the renovation "we have tried to maintain the building's historic integrity" he said, adding "we wanted to give it the attention it's needed for a long time."

Mercury is rising. After 103 years, Kilmer's Winged Messenger is getting a facelift. He's not alone. Recently downtown Binghamton has come alive with preservation, renovation, and adaptive reuse of its architectural treasures - like the Harvey Justice Building, the Kilmer Building, several new shops, galleries, theaters and loft apartments. Now add to that the new GBDC Professional Tower… one more shining example of Binghamton Rising.